Telling lies for a living

Why we write

There is nothing wrong with telling lies for a living. Writers of fiction are not the only ones who do it. So long as there is no intent to commit fraud or harm, why should we not? After all, it is not only writers who tell lies for a living. Poets, artists, singers and songwriters, actors, commedians…

Why do we love these liars, buy their books, music, art and movies? Because we find value in suspending our disbelief, opening our hearts and minds to their lies and finding that most valuable kernel of truth.

Words that mean something

Good strong words

Few deliberately read or write the wishy-washy. Though there are many reasons we read and write, few involve wasting time when there is much to learn and experience which will enrich and improve your life.

Something I find myself repeating often in my editing is, “what do you mean by this?” Some words have many meanings, combining certain words can cause confusion. It is not easy to say exactly what you mean and mean exactly what you say. Specificity is important when conveying meaning.

Take for example “he jumped in his little red car and drove off down the road”. Without specificity, our character might be anyone who drives a red car, from Enid Blyton’s Noddy to James Bond. The car might be a red Ferrari or a child’s toy racing car. He may drive like the chauffeur of a VIP or a professional driver on a Grand Prix circuit.

Especially when word count is limited, each word must work hard to earn its place. Try interpreting the above example in as many specific ways as you can. I’ll start.

“The learner barely cleared the door of his new scarlet MG before hitting the starter, kangaroo hopping, stalling, restarting before putting it in first gear and, attempting nonchalance started off again, his face a similar colour to his paint job.”

“Angry at the insult, he stormed off, slammed the door of his Rally Red Corvette, revved the engine before roaring off in a squeal of tyres on bitumen.”

“Carefully closing the door of his fully restored Salsa Red VW Beetle, he fastened his seatbelt, started the motor, checked there was no traffic coming, indicated and pulled away from the curb smoothly, giving a cheerful beep beep goodbye.”

I’d love to hear your interpretation.

The better book

Better book

Wonderful as words are, they can be slippery little suckers. Getting the right words in the right order onto paper to tell the beautiful story in your head can be a challenge.

A good editor can help but sending a new story to an editor immediately after one finishes writing it isn’t always the best way of going about it. It can be an expensive exercise when there are other steps you can take first.

Almost all writing teachers will recommend you give a new manuscript time. Leave it for as long as you can because coming back to a manuscript fresh after letting it sit can help you see what’s actually on the page, rather than what you think you wrote. When I began writing I remember rereading and discovering I had repeated what I already said, sometimes more than once.

Next step is to have one or two or more of your writer friends critique your work. This is often the job of a good writers group, trusted friends who read each other’s work, who may have been there while you brainstormed, plotted and wrote, may see things you miss. The pace of the story may have slowed, there may be plot holes which need filling, unanswered questions, impossibilities or inconsistencies.

If possible, also find some beta readers, or trusted persons who read extensively in your genre and can give you an honest opinion.

When you have considered all their suggestions, made any amendments and reread your manuscript again, then it’s time to send it to an editor. Earlier and you will be paying more for your editor to find those things your critique partners and beta readers or you yourself didn’t see.

Don’t be disheartened though, many experienced writers will tell you that they prefer not to read earlier published stories. Like any great artist, there’s always something which could have been done better.